President's Report, 2012 Annual General Meeting

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24th Annual General Meeting, 25 September 2012

President’s Report

I am very pleased to be able to present my second report as President of the Friends. The key point I want to underline is that there is a wonderful spirit of cooperation from those who actively assist with the Friends activities and from the staff at ANBG. This makes the President’s job relatively easy.

The Friends of ANBG is a special group that plays a most important and growing role at this vital national institution. We are a totally voluntary group and this means that the money we raise and our in kind contributions go almost totally to support the Gardens. Active volunteers are the key to our success and I can’t speak highly enough of the many members of the Friends who contribute. I don’t have a precise count of numbers but I estimate it is at least 250 people. I would like to see even more people becoming involved, even in a small way.

What I hope will be a key development for the Gardens was the release of the new 10 year Management Plan in the middle of the year. This is full of exciting ideas which the Friends support. However, we are concerned that the Plan was released in a climate of further efficiency dividends being levied on Parks Australia, and therefore the Gardens. While we understand that the Gardens have so far managed to hold the line on the operational budget it is clear that these ideas are going to be hard, if not impossible, to fund from traditional sources. We did make representations to the Minister, Tony Burke, asking why ANBG was being treated more harshly than almost all other national institutions, who were exempted from the additional efficiency dividend. I hope we can get some direct engagement with the Minister in due course to discuss these issues. It is clear that a more structured approach is needed to sourcing funds from other sources and it will be necessary for the Friends to play a significant part in that.

The Friends have made clear that we want to have the chance to provide input to the setting of the major priorities for implementation of the management plan. The Friends have said for some years that we want to see an Advisory Council for the Gardens. This is mentioned in the Management Plan but we urge management to move now to put such a body in place. I am disappointed that this proposal has not been acted on.

I am proud of what we have achieved over the past year. There is not time to list every detail but I remind everyone that a great deal of information on our activities is published in Fronds and available on our website. Without any order of priority, the achievements during the past year include

  • Botanic Art Exhibition
    • The 5th exhibition was held most successfully in April/May and opened by Gai Brodtmann MP. The Friends decided to launch a program of purchasing one work from these exhibitions for presentation and permanent exhibition at the Gardens. That will take place at the end of this AGM
  • Growing Friends
    • Two plant sales were held most successfully in November and April. The next Spring plant sale will be held on 10 November
  • Schools photographic exhibition
    • The 15th exhibition was held in November and I thank Denise Ferris from the ANU School of Art, who was the judge. The number and quality of entries was excellent and they were displayed in the VIC through November. I must thank Shirley McKeown for the work she has done with this competition over a number of years. Shirley has decided to stand down this year and I am grateful to Carol Summerhayes for taking over.
  • Thursday talks
    • Following the retirement of Warwick Wright from this activity a small group has taken over the organization. A most successful program has been put together through 2012.
  • Social activities
    • Our Social and Activities Committee has arranged a number of events during the year, including
      • Death in the Gardens – held in November and attended by 160 people over two nights
      • Twilight dinner - the theme was the installation of the rainforest lighting funded by the Friends and those attending had the opportunity to take the first tour
      • Right Royal trivia night - held in May
      • Summer sounds - This major Friends and garden activity was again held in January
  • Breakfast with the birds
    • This is being held again in September and October with the cooperation of the new café operator
  • External talks
    • These are talks by Warwick and Pat Wright to a wide range of external groups about the Gardens
  • Research
    • Alpine project - Entering its final phase and due for completion by the end of 2013. An alpine garden is one outcome and this is being replanted in the rock garden area.
    • Seedy volunteers - Volunteers enlisted to help with collection of seeds from local flora.
  • Membership
    • The membership team continues to do an outstanding job managing our 1800 or so members. Membership continues to grow steadily.
  • Website
    • A major achievement during the year has been the creation of a new website for the Friends. This is operating more and more as a most effective communication tool. The small team coordinated by Alan Munns that put this together and is managing it on an ongoing basis is to be congratulated. I must again pay tribute to Shirley McKeown for her work on the website over many years
  • Café
    • Floresco is the new Gardens café and is operated by the Hellenic Club. The Friends have been in close contact with the operators and so far they have been very responsive to our suggestions, including the restoration of the 10% discount for Friends members.
  • In Flower this Week
    • Barbara Daly, who has looked after weekly news sheet for many years, was injured earlier in the year but is now well on the way to recovery I understand. My sincere thanks to those who have stepped in to continue this valuable activity while Barbara recovers.
  • Guides
    • Our guides continue to do sterling work with the regular walks and a range of special and booked walks. My thanks to Don Beer who stood down as the guides coordinator in December. Some thought is being given to a new intake of guides during 2013.
  • Projects
    • Over the past year there have been a number of projects funded by the Friends, including
      • A new projector, screen and computer for the Theatrette, which we can see in operation at the AGM
      • The Flora Explorer. This electric vehicle can take about 12 people on tours of the Gardens, reaching areas that are less accessible to many visitors. Volunteer guides/drivers have been trained for the special tours but more will be needed in the future
      • Rainforest lighting. The new dramatic lighting display was launched early in the year and is a great addition to what the Gardens can offer.
      • Climate watch trail. This is a joint project with Earthwatch and sets out a trail located along the main path which encourages visitors to record to help build a time series of data related to possible effects of climate change.
  • Wattle Day
    • A very successful event was held on wattle day, with the launching by the Hon Peter Garrett MP of a new wattle book by Maria Hitchcock.
  • Public Fund.
    • We thank Pauline Wicksteed, who retired this year from the Management Committee after many years of service. David Headon and Beth Heyde have been appointed to the Committee and Beth has agreed to take over as Secretary.
    • The fund has just agreed to provide funding for two projects – Signage and a brochure for the eucalypt trail and an interactive educational project to display a termite mound.
  • Fronds
    • Our Fronds team continues to do an outstanding job, producing three editions during the year. The quality and scope of the coverage is quite phenomenal.
  • Style Guide
    • I must mention the work done this year, largely by Barbara Podger with Siobhan Duffy of CSIRO, to prepare a style guide for the Friends. This will ensure our various publications, including the website, will have a good measure of harmony in their presentation.
  • Association of Friends of Botanic Gardens
    • The Biennial conference was held in Port Augusta just a few weeks ago and several Friends attended. We are continuing to support the Association, especially through their publication, Campsis, which is now edited by Anne Rawson. Warwick Wright, who has been on their committee for some years, was elected as Vice President.
  • Botanical interns
    • We again supported the botanical intern program run by the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research and the Gardens.
  • Photography group
    • It is gratifying to see this new group settling into place and I anticipate some excellent contributions to the Gardens in the future.

One activity that I am concerned about is the Botanical Resource Centre. The Centre is still there and accessible but the volunteers have become discouraged due to lack of programs to promote effective use. This is something that I want to discuss with the gardens for the future.

Looking at the coming year there are already a number of things that are organized or planned.

In particular there will be a major focus on the Gardens contribution to the Centenary of Canberra celebrations. The Friends Council has just agreed to funding of $100,000 to provide an innovative artwork as the central meeting place for the Red Centre Garden as our gift to the Gardens for the Centenary. The Friends have also been awarded a grant of $15,000 to stage a Bush Capital celebration in October next year as part of the centenary celebrations. That will be a two day program of events to highlight the gardens as a national institution and its relationship with the local community. There will be other Friends centenary linked activities during the year, including the 6th botanic art exhibition and a photographic exhibition involving our photography group. There will be two plant sales by the Growing Friends I anticipate. There will be special centenary themed Thursday lunchtime talks once per month throughout the year.

Our Social Committee is also planning some exciting events during the coming year and details will be available in due course. Coming up soon are special tours of the Parliament House Gardens and the ANBG nursery. There will be a full Summer sounds program in January.

There will be a number of other events and activities during the coming year. While we do everything we can to put this information on the website and in Fronds, where necessary we will be sending broadcast emails to members. I encourage all members who have email to give their address so these emails can reach as many members as possible.

Andy Rawlinson is standing down from Council at this AGM after four years. I thank him most sincerely and hope he will continue to provide his special skills to help the Friends and the gardens in the future.

I conclude by thanking all our volunteers and especially the other members of Council and those who coordinate and participate in our various groups.

David Coutts